Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Clinton donors gather to plan fight against Trump

(November 14) Rich liberals attended a three-day closed door meeting at an expensive Washington hotel. After spending tens of millions in a failed attempt to elect Hillary Clinton the group is laying plans to fight back against Donald Trump.

The meeting is taking place at the expensive Mandarin Oriental luxury hotel in Washington. The meeting is sponsored by the influential Democracy Alliance(DA) donor club.
Wikipedia describes the Alliance:As of 2015, the organization has approximately 110 partners who are required to contribute at least $200,000 a year to groups the Democracy Alliance vets and recommends. The Alliance has helped distribute approximately $500 million to liberal organizations since its founding in 2005. Members of the Democracy Alliance include billionaires George Soros and Tom Steyer.[5]The group has its own website.
The Washington meeting will include House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, leaders of some main trade unions and liberal groups, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Keith Ellison Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair. Some of the sessions appear to be focusing on 2017 and 18 elections but others are designed to try and thwart Trump's 100-day plan which the group says is "a terrifying assault on President Obama's achievements--and our progressive visions for an equitable and just nation". Some liberals are reassessing their approach to politics after the failure to elect Clinton.
The DA has had a strategy of orienting some key organizations around Clinton, and by adopting a strategy of appealing to minorities and women whom they thought were a "rising American electorate" that would enable Democrats to win elections. This may have helped to elect Obama but did not take into account the strong anti-establishment vote that Trump was able to attract. In many areas where the white working class had voted for Obama and union leaders supported Clinton this election Trump won out. Issues such as climate change which Democrats emphasize turned out not to be capable of bringing enough votes to Clinton to beat Trump — though some critics outside the party believe not enough was done to emphasize issues over character-based attacks during the election.
One Democratic strategist, active at the grass roots level complained: “The DA itself should be called into question. You can make a very good case it’s nothing more than a social club for a handful wealthy white donors and labor union officials to drink wine and read memos, as the Democratic Party burns down around them.” However, another liberal strategist said that Clinton won the popular vote. What was needed he said was to have Democrats vote in greater numbers. Democratic candidates needed to inspire voters to vote for them on election day. Gara Lemarche, president of the DA said that at least some reassessment was in order saying: “You don’t lose an election you were supposed to win, with so much at stake, without making some big mistakes, in assumptions, strategy and tactics.” He also said that reassessment should take place without recrimination or "finger-pointing" and should not be rushed.
Some sessions focused on protecting Obamacare and other key Obama programs. Trump is considering amending Obamacare rather than repealing it outright. It is possible that some compromise can be worked out on the issue. There will also be sessions on winning the working-class vote as well as sessions stressing the importance of providing cash for state races where Republicans made big gains this election. Keith Ellison spoke today on winning working-class votes. He has been a leader in pressing for a type of economic populism, a strategy that no doubt helped Trump. Ellison is a top candidate to head the Democratic National Committee.
Since it began in 2005 the DA has donated up to half a billion to several groups including Media Matters, Center for American Progress and Catalyst, all run by Clinton allies and who will have sent representatives to the DA meeting. Business magnate George Soros committed or donated $25 million to boosting Clinton and other Democratic candidates in 2016. During the primaries Soros said that Trump along with his rival Ted Cruz "were doing the work of ISIS". Soros will give a speech on Tuesday morning apparently dealing with his experiences living through the Holocaust and then under Soviet rule in Hungary. However, president of the DA, LaMarche claimed that Soros would not compare Trump with Hitler. Some items for the conference had to be changed because Clinton lost.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Eastern military in Libya fear attack on oil ports

Haftar's spokesperson, Ahmed Al-Mismari claims that forces supporting the Libyan Government of National Accord(GNA) and its defense minister Mihdi Al-Barghathi are gathering near Al-Jufra in the south to attack the Oil Crescent export ports.

The four main export ports in the Oil Crescent were recently seized by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) associated with the House of Representatives (HoR) based in the east of Libya in the city of Tobruk. The HoR does not support the GNA nor does Haftar. Mismari said that along with the GNA forces were the forces of Ibrahim Jodhran. Jodhran was head of the Petroleum Forces Guards from whom Haftar seized the oil ports. Mismari also claimed that an Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group was involved which he did not specify.
Mismari told an Egyptian newspaper:“All those forces are positioned there and they are trying to advance toward the oil terminals after they have formed an operations room headed by Al-Barghathi – dubbed as Operations Room for Liberation of Oil Terminals. Fight between our forces and those of the UN-proposed government is drawing nigh.”
Mesmari also claimed that the LNA and Haftar's Dignity Operation control most western cities and that all Tripoli residents support their operation. This is stretching the truth to put it mildly. Militia opposed to Haftar and loyal to the GNA or at least opposed to Haftar control much of the west and have considerable support in Tripoli and Misrata.
Mesmari said that several scenarios were possible. He said that LNA forces had taken all necessary measures to stop any advance on the ports. There have been several reports from eastern sources that the defense minister of the GNA Al-Barghathi has gathered some brigades together to regain control of the oil ports from Haftar's LNA forces. Claims have been made by Barghathi that the LNA forces guarding the ports are actually mercenaries.
Barghathi, formerly a Haftar ally supporting Operation Dignity, is now a strong opponent since he became designated defense minister for the GNA. He formerly headed the 204 Tanks Brigade. Haftar forces recently kidnapped and killed a number of Brigade members still loyal to Barghathi. Forces loyal to Haftar have also abducted a number of men from Ran Lanuf and the town of Ben Jawad whom they claim were plotting to seize the oil terminals. It remains to be seen if there is any truth to the report by Mesmari. The UN has urged the GNA not to resort to violence to regain the ports. Neither the GNA nor Barghathi have said publicly that they are planning to do so. Haftar has been cooperating with the National Oil Company(NOC) based in Tripoli and associated with the GNA. He has allowed the export of oil from the ports and the NOC to operate them. However, control of the ports gives Haftar considerable leverage in negotiating with the NOC.

Donald Trump made an honorary Russian Cossack

Donald Trump is not only president-elect of the United States but he has been made an honorary Russian Cossack. Trump and his entire family have been invited to attend a welcoming ceremony by Idris Cossack leader, Ataman Andrey Polyakov.

All along Trump has been the favorite candidate in the Russian media and his win was applauded in the Russian Duma or parliament. Polyakov leader of the Irbis Cossack group who bestowed the honor on Putin said that the "unforgettable programme" of traditional activities would allow Trump an insight into the "mysterious Russian soul". The Ibris group is based around St. Petersburg.
The group recently grabbed headlines by unveiling a bust of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the garb of a Roman emperor. The Cossacks a traditional military order have a long history in Russia, Ukraine and some other neighboring countries. Many defended the Czar and fought against the Bolsheviks as members of the White Army. Many were slaughtered by the Soviet regime. Nevertheless some fought with the Red Army in the Second World War. After the fall of the USSR the Cossacks have grown in numbers and importance as staunch Russian nationalists. In some cities they act as auxiliary police.
The Ibris group has made the news before. In August 2015 a prosecutor accused them of using unsanctioned currency. The smallest denomination the group issued was equal to 100 roubles or about US $1.50. There were said to be already more than two million in circulation. Some notes had a photo of President Putin but others had a photo of Polyakov the group's leader. Polyakov said the currency had a host of uses locally and said:"There is less money now, so we decided that we would help Cossacks this way. Members of the community will be able to pay using the banknotes for education at the Cossack cadet college, repair home appliances at our farmstead, and buy food products produced there."I do not know if any charges were ever laid. So far there has been no response from Donald Trump indicating he intends to attend the welcoming ceremony or accept his new honor. He could visit his friend Putin while in Russia.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Trump may end US support for "moderate" rebels in Syria

(Nov. 12) In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, President-elect Donald Trump suggested that he was likely to end the U.S. policy of supporting "moderate" rebel groups.

He claimed that the U.S. did not really know who the moderate rebels were and that the U.S. should concentrate on defeating the Islamic State (IS).
Trump said in the interview:“I’ve had an opposite view of many people regarding Syria. My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful, because of us, is aligned with Syria. … Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are.”Trump also expressed concern that if the U.S. attacked the Assad regime it would end up fighting not only Syria but Russia as well.
In the past, Trump has suggested that the defeat of Assad could actually lead to something worse in the aftermath assuming it did not result in a war with Russia. Within the U.S. administration there has been an ongoing problem with the Pentagon wanting to fight the Islamic State (IS) while the CIA and State Department wants to shift the focus toward regime change. The CIA is heavily involved in providing arms and funding for the rebels. Earlier CIA plans for creating new forces and arming them have failed, often disastrously. Often arms end up in the hands of Al-Qaeda-linked or IS forces.
The U.S. is supporting about 30,000 Syrian-Kurd plus some Syrian-Arab fighters against the IS. They are at present advancing on the IS "capital" in Syria Raqqa. There are approximately 300 U.S. Special Operations forces assisting these fighters. It is not this operation but the CIA covert program designed to help rebels defeat Assad which Trump may end. The so-called moderate rebels are allied and cooperate with some groups that were until recently explicitly associated with Al-Qaeda. The rebels show little concern that some of those against Assad are radical jihadists. The important aspect of the situation for them is that they are opposing Assad.
Trump's position will probably resonate with Putin since Trump is unlikely to try and pressure Russia to drop support for Assad. However, he may find himself in conflict with the CIA.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Uzbekistan political prisoner freed after 22 years

Samandar Kukanov, 72, is described by human rights activists as one of the longest serving political prisoners in Uzbekistan was finally released on Thursday (November 24) after 22 years in prison.

Kukanov a former parliamentary deputy was sentenced to 20 years in 1994 on charges of embezzlement after he had become a fierce critic of then president Islam Karimov. Karimov died in September after ruling the Central Asian country of 32 million with an iron fist for over 26 years. Karimov was the first president of Uzbekistan from its independence on 1 September 1991 to his death in 2016. a period of 25 years. However, before that, he was the President of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic from 24 March 1990 until he declared the independence ofUzbekistan on 1 September 1991.
The move was a surprise. This could boost the image of Karimov's successor Shavkat Mirziyoyev who is running for president in an election of December 4. In 2014 his term had been extended for 2 more years because he breached prison rules. Although Kukanov's relatives were expecting him to be released last month, instead they received a letter informing them that Kukanov had his term extended again for violating prison regulations. Yet according to rights group Ezgulik, which contacted his family, he was unexpectedly released. A report in the Diplomat claims " Qoqonov’s relatives told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service that they had received a call on November 24 informing them that the October court decision which extended the 72-year-old former politician’s sentence by three years and five days had been annulled. " Kukanov's last name can also be spelled "Quqonov".
Mirziyoyev who is acting as the interim ruler is expected to win the December election. Although he amnestied several less prominent political prisoners as well observers expect Uzbekistan's political environment to continue as before under Karimov.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Conservatives attack Trump's expensive infrastructure program

One of Trump's key economic policies was a trillion-dollar infrastructure spending program to rebuild U.S. highways, bridges and airports.

Certainly many of Trump's policies and policy directions such as those on the environment are opposed to those of liberals and leftists but not all his policies are such, including his view on the necessity of rebuilding U.S. infrastructure. Indeed, it is conservatives who already are criticizing his plans to spend up to a trillion dollars over 10 years. Trump claims that his program will create ""millions" of jobs, and compared it to Eisenhower's creation of the interstate highway system. While Trump is no doubt inflating the job creation numbers a bit, this is the sort of program that Democrats could support and attempt to modify. Obama also had an $832 billion dollar program a target also of conservative criticism. During the campaign, Hillary Clintonadvanced her own infrastructure spending campaign of $275 billion over five years financed partly by oil revenue and also a tax overhaul. Trump points out his plan is much larger than that of Clinton's and boasts: “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure — which will become, by the way, second to none — and we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”
According to an article in Politico, Trump has not made it clear how much if any of the funds for the project would come from Federal coffers. However, it seems clear that his most recent views are quite different from those he outlined earlier in the summer to the Fox Business Network. He said then that the government would spend as much as $550 billion at phenomenally low interest rates. The Politico article notes:“Donald Trump Proposes $550 Billion in New Government Debt,” the resulting Wall Street Journal headline read, suggesting the difficulties such a plan could face in a Republican Congress that has spent eight years lambasting President Barack Obama over deficit spending. The conservative site Newsmax called his idea “a steaming pile of hogwash.”
His more recent plan crafted by economist Peter Navarro and financier Wilbur Ross would rely heavily on private funding driven by a tax credit. They claim that costs would be reaped from tax revenues that would come from the resulting jump in business activity. The plan is said to leverage public-private partnerships, and private investments through tax incentives, to spur one trillion dollars in infrastructure development over ten years. This language suggests that there will be relatively little or even no federal money being invested in the development. Trump claims the plan could be revenue neutral. A comparison of Hillary's plan and Trump's can be found in this article by Navarro.
Dan Holleer, spokesperson for Heritage Action for America, questioned Trump's assessment of the job-creation potential of the program: "Conservatives do not view infrastructure spending as an economic stimulus, and congressional Republicans rightly rejected that approach in 2009. It would be a mistake to prioritize Big Government endeavors over important issues like repealing Obamacare, reforming our regulatory system and expanding domestic energy production.” The group is the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation. The Trump initiative also was criticized by the Competitive Enterprise Institute(CEI) ironically a group that Trump's own transition team has used for advice on environmental issues. Marc Scribner of the CEI wrote: “There is little evidence that these public works projects promote long-run economic growth.” in a blog post called "The Great Infrastructure Myth".
While the idea of infrastructure improvement has support among some key Republicans in Congress and is likely to gain the support of many Democrats the issue of how to pay for such improvement has been divisive. House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi said the the Democrats want to work with Trump "to pass a bill very fast". The group Building America's Future chaired by former Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and former New York mayou Michael Bloomberg pledged to work with Trump and Congress to "tackle this unifying issue in the first 100 days."
Bud Wright, executive director of the Association of American State Highway and Transportation said: “Financing is a nice piece of the puzzle. We certainly believe that we need additional federal investment, but really finding funding to do that — using some traditional or creative sources to generate new revenues — is important." Ed Mortimer, of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that the group would tell the Trump administration that some kind of sustainable funding must be part of any new infrastructure spending plan. With respect to this issue there is general agreement that it needs to be addressed urgently and it is possible that both parties can work together to come up with a plan to improve U.S. infrastructure.

Two-day meeting on Libya crisis produces few positive results and no new plans

(November 11) After a two-day meeting of members of the Libyan Political Dialogue that discussed the political process and obstacles to implementing the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) no new suggestions were made to resolve the political crisis.

The GNA together with the UN envoy Martin Kobler have been trying for months to have the House of Representatives pass a vote of confidence in the GNA as required by the LPA. So far, the HoR has rejected the GNA twice, the last time on August 22. The GNA was to present a new slimmed-down cabinet of 8 members. Well over two months later, there is still no sign of members having been chosen. There is no date set or deadline for any vote in the HoR on the issue.
A key reason why the HoR will not accept the GNA and LPA as things are, is that the LPA has a provision that makes the Presidential Council (PC) of the GNA commander in chief. Neither the HoR nor Field Marshal Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army of the HoR government, will accept this and want the section deleted. Haftar wants to remain commander of the armed forces. Kobler has insisted that the LPA can be amended only after it is passed as it is. I thought that the meeting in Malta might result in the amendment of the LPA by the Libyan Dialogue Members who originally signed it. This obviously did not happen. Without such a move it seems difficult to see how the GNA will be able to obtain a vote of confidence from the HoR.
In the statement following the meetings found on the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) there is not even a mention of the need for the GNA to obtain a vote of confidence from the HoR. There is no mention either of the PC presenting a new list of cabinet members to the HoR. The statement only calls on the HoR to amend the Constitutional Declaration as required by the LPA. This would incorporate the GNA into the constitution. It seems unlikely that the HoR would do this since they do not recognize the GNA. Until they are willing to vote confidence in the GNA it seems unlikely that they would agree to incorporate it in the constitution.
The statement urged the PC "to improve its performance to address the stifling security, social and economic problems that face Libyan citizens across the country." This is a recommendation that probably met almost universal agreement among members. The group also calls upon all parties not to use violence or weapons to solve conflicts.
The group also commended the progress in fighting and defeating terrorism in Libya without mentioning specific actions such as the offensive against Sirte or naming any person or groups responsible for the progress, Nothing which could be the least bit offensive to anyone is allowed to appear in most of the statement. The group also welcomed local attempts at reconciliation.
The group decided that they would continue to discuss obstacles to peace at a further meeting to take place in mid-December. The Libya Herald in its coverage notes that many of the proposals in the statement are unlikely to be implemented. There is another meeting on the situation in Libya sponsored by the African Union. At the meeting, Idriss Déby Itno, President of Chad, who chaired the meeting said, “there is no military solution” for Libya. So far there is no solution of any kind. Khalifa Haftar has claimed that there is a military solution.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Amnesty accuses Iraqi government forces of killing and torturing civilians in Mosul offensive

According to the rights group, Amnesty International, government forces killed and tortured civilians in the Shura and Qayyara districts south of Mosul. Six bodies were found.

Lynn Maalouf, deputy director of research at the Amnesty office in Beirut Lebanon said: "Men in federal police uniform have carried out multiple unlawful killings, apprehending and then deliberately killing in cold blood residents in villages south of Mosul." Maalouf also said: "When the Mosul military operation began, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made clear that violations by Iraqi armed forces and its allies would not be tolerated. Now is the time for him to prove just that. The Iraqi authorities must immediately investigate these alarming reports of extrajudicial executions and torture." The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi denied the Amnesty allegation claiming that local residents, not government troops, had killed Islamic State members. He said that the group was spreading fear among Iraqis through its reporting and would bear responsibility for people who might flee the city as a result.
Another rights group, Human Rights Watch, said that at least 37 men who were suspected of being associated with the Islamic State (IS) had been detained by Iraqi and Kurdish forces, from various checkpoints, villages, screening centers around Mosul and districts further south. Relatives complained that they were unable to find out where the men were being held and had been able to contact them in detention. Interior Minister Dindar Zebari said: "Nobody has been kept in unknown facilities. They are kept in identified facilities." He denied that Iraqi forces were involved in any human rights violations. A representative of the Kurdish regional government said that delays in informing families arose through a shortage of resources.
The Mosul offensive involves troops, security forces, Kurdish peshmerga and Shiite militia — about 100,000 in all. U.S.-led airstrikes back the offensive. A BBC report claims those involved in the offensive at only 50,000.
Amnesty reported several incidents around Oct.. 21 when separate groups of men were beaten with cables and rifle butts and then shot to done. One of the men's head had been severed from his body. Amnesty was concerned that without any accountability these types of abuses would happen in other areas as the offensive continued. So far the offensive has entered the eastern outskirts of Mosul but that is over a week ago as the IS fighters put up fierce resistance.
The BBC gives a more extensive report on one Oct. 21 incident in which about 10 men and a 16-year old boy who had escaped being forcibly transferred by the IS handed themselves over to a small group of men wearing police uniforms. They were all taken to a desert area where they were beaten with cables and rifle butts, punched and kicked. They were made to lie on their stomachs and shots fired between their legs. Three men were separated and subject to brutal beatings before being shot dead. A fourth body of a man handcuffed and beaten was found about a week later.
The IS are also killing many whom they think are passing on information to the enemy. Bodies have been hung up on hydro poles to put them on display. Civilians are also often killed by US airstrikes, the number killed often being under-reported.

Libya Dialogue group meets in Malta on Libya crisis

(November 10) Valetta--Today members of the Libyan Political Dialogue begin a two-day meeting whose aim is to end the political impasse in Libya and agree to the steps needed to advance the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA)

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The Libya Political Dialogue was a group of Libyan stakeholders assembled by former UN envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon. Working with the dialogue members he produced several drafts of the Liberal Political Agreement. No draft was ever agreed to by both the Salvation government parliament, the General National Congress or the rival House of Representatives (HoR) government based in Tobruk. When Martin Kobler took over as UN envoy he tried to pass the final draft through both parliaments but failed.
Kobler got around this problem by convening members of the Dialogue who supported the LPA in the Moroccan resort town of Skhirat in December of 2015. Those members signed what is known as the Skhiirat Agreement or Libyan Political Agreement. Although there were members of both parliaments present none of them had authority from their parliaments to sign. Presumably the members of the Political Dialogue referred to in the notice of meeting are some or all of those members who signed the Skhirat agreement.
The LPA requires that the HoR vote confidence in the LPA before the GNA term began. However, the GNA was actually rejected although a hundred members signed a letter supporting the GNA albeit with reservations. This led to an earlier meeting of the Political Dialogue members. In March this year they met in Tunis to discuss the GNA decision to activate itself and move to Tripoli from Tunis. Although there was some dissension the meeting was interpreted as supporting the GNA decision and the GNA moved to the naval base at Tripoli.
However, the GNA still needed the HoR to vote confidence in it before the HoR could become the legislature of the GNA under the terms of the LPA. This has never happened. In fact the HoR voted on August 22 to reject the GNA. The GNA was supposed to present a new smaller cabinet of eight members within ten days but more than two months later there is as yet no sign of a list of such members. It is not even clear that the HoR will even receive such a list and vote on it. Nothing is scheduled and no deadline has been set. The HoR wants not just a new list of cabinet members but also the deletion of a section of the LPA which makes the Presidency Council of the GNA the commander of GNA forces. The HoR and Field Marshal Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army Forces associated with the HoR, want Haftar to remain in his position. This is one of what the UNSMIL statement calls a key obstacle to the implementation of the Political Agreement. Kobler insists that only with a unified government, "the people of Libya will live with security, and basic services can be restored".
There was a second meeting of Dialogue members in July in Tunis at which the group expressed disappointment in the work of the GNA and warned that if its performance did not improve they might vote a lack of confidence in it.
Other bodies are also meeting on the Libya crisis and there is a new initiative by the African Union. A spokesperson for Khalifa Haftar, Colonel Ahmed Mesmary, said that an alternative to the Skhirat agreement was being worked out by tribal leaders in the city of Ajdabiya.
The dialogue members may be asked to amend the LPA. Kobler has constantly insisted that the LPA cannot be amended until it is passed by the HoR as it is. Perhaps, he has now changed his mind. Without amendment of the LPA, it appears quite unlikely that the HoR will vote confidence in the GNA.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Saudi Arabia halts oil shipments to Egypt in spite of aid deal

Saudi Arabia has informed Egypt the oil shipments under a $23 billion aid deal agreed to in April have been halted indefinitely. The action suggests a deepening rift between the two countries.

Since President Abdel el-Sisi took power in Egypt in 2013, Saudi Arabia has been a major donor helping prop up Egypt's ailing economy. There may be a number of reasons behind the action. Some claim that the Saudis are frustrated with Egypt's lack of economic reforms. However, Egypt has accepted reforms required to obtain a loan from the IMF for $12 billion. Another reason may be Egypt's reluctance to be drawn into the Yemen conflict.
However, Saudi Arabia may be even more angry at Egypt's moves for a great rapprochement with Iran and warming relations with Moscow as a recent Al-Monitor article points out. This will lead to Egypt taking a less aggressive view toward removing Assad in Syria. All of this is counter to Saudi positions.
During a visit to Egypt in April, the Saudis agreed to provide Egypt with 700,000 tonnes of refined oil products per month for a period of five years but the shipments stopped in early October. Egyptian officials said that since the contract with the Saudi state oil firm Aramco is still valid they expected the shipments to begin again. However, yesterday Tarek El Molla, the Egyptian oil minister confirmed that shipments had stopped indefinitely. A ministry official said: "They did not give us a reason. They only informed the authority about halting shipments of petroleum products until further notice." This announcement comes just after a source in Molla's delegation said that he would visit Iran to try and negotiate new oil deals. A deal with Iran would represent a significant shift in relationships in the Middle East.
However, Molla, speaking to reporters in Abhu Dhabi, insisted that he was not going to Iran. An Iranian oil official also said that a report in Iranian media suggesting Molla would meet with his counterpart in Tehran yesterday was incorrect. Egyptian PM Sherif Ismail also confirmed that Egypt was not negotiating with Iran on importing oil products. However, two security sources and the source in Molla's delegation claimed that the minister had been scheduled to go, but when the news became public the visit was delayed. The Saudi's would be extremely angry if Egypt were to negotiate an oil deal with Tehran.
Saudi Arabia may also be somewhat miffed at the Egypt's State Council's decision that el-Sisi could not hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia as he had agreed to earlier.. President Sisi's decision was met by rare protests with many being arrested.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

US airstrikes in Sirte appear ended for now

(November 7) Fox News reports that several U.S. officials claim that after three months of strikes on Islamic State positions in Sirte designed to help the offensive by Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous (Solid Structure or BAM) the operation has ended.

Operation Odyssey Lightning began on August 1. When originally announced the operation was only to last for a few weeks. It has been extended every thirty days since then through September and October but there appears to be no extension into November. The Islamic State (IS) is now confined to a small area of Sirte along the Mediterranean and there are very few IS fighters left. However, they continue a fierce resistance. U.S. officials told Fox News that they were consulting with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) and did not rule out further strikes in the future. One senior defense official said that there were fewer targets available now without the risk of civilian casualties.
Since the operation began Aug. 1, 367 airstrikes have been carried out. A recent tweet shows a graph of the strikes: "Graphs showing 3 months of Odyssey Lightning OP in #Sirte. 737 ISIS fighters, 38 SVBIED, 36 supply vehicles / positions, targeted since Aug1" No airstrikes have taken place since the end of August.
Apparently new orders from U.S. Africa Command on November 1 are to "end offensive and self-defense strikes" against the IS in Sirte. However, a U.S. official claimed that President Obama can authorize additional strikes going forward on targets of interest. The Sirte Operation has been carried out unilaterally but at the request of the GNA. The U.S. has carried out two other separate airstrikes in Libya since 2015.
While the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, conducted operations involving Harrier Jets and Cobra attack helicopters a majority of the strikes were actually by drones from bases in the region. The Wasp was replaced by the USS San Antonio recently which cannot launch Harrier jets. The U.S. also has a few special forces on the ground helping out in the offensive against Sirte along with some from the U.K.
Meanwhile, ground operations by BAM continue against the IS remnants now confined to just one small district. As they advance they have been able to free some civilians from the IS. On Sunday BAM forces freed 14 civilians from the small Ghiza Bahriya area where IS continues to resist. The forces are advancing slowly and cautiously in an effort to limit civilian casualties. Several groups of civilians have been able to escape or been rescued lately. Some are migrant women and children kidnapped by the IS as they tried to make their way to Europe. Rida Issa, a spokesperson for the BAM forces, mostly from the city of Misrata, said there was no advance on Sunday but on Saturday there were small gains after heavy tank and artillery fire against IS positions.
On Saturday the Misrata Central Hospital reported two BAM fighters were killed and 22 more wounded in clashes with IS fighters. Only ten of those injured needed to stay in the hospital.
UPDATE: According to an article in the Military TImes the operation has been extended. There has been no official announcement and no news as to how long and when extension was authorized. Up until now there have been no further attacks.

Libyan eastern tribal leader survives assassination attempt

The car of Salah Al-Atewish, head of the Magharba tribe in eastern Libya, exploded just after he left a mosque in Benghazi after Friday prayers in an apparent assassination attempt.

Salah was taken to hospital along with a colleague who was injured in the blast as well. Salah is said to be in good condition while the condition of his colleague is critical. The incident happened in the Sid Faraj district of Benghazi. Apparently a bomb was placed under his car. It is not known yet if there were others injured by the blast according to the Libya Herald. The Libya Observer reports that Atewish's injuries were minor. Atewish was visited in the hospital by his son along with Saiqa special forces commander Wanid Bukhamada.
Some local observers are blaming the action on acting GNA defense minister Al-Mahdi Al-Barghathi together with some Benghazi militants as well as Ibrahim Jadhran who are also said to be intending to try to retake the oil ports and oil fields occupied by Khalifa Haftar commander of the House of Representatives' (HoR) Libyan National Army (LNA).
Atewish had been instrumental in helping Haftar seize the terminal and oil fields in September by urging members of his tribe based around the city of Ajdabiya to avoid bloodshed and not fight. Ibrahim Jadhran, an opponent of Haftar, former head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard along with his family are also part of the tribe. Atewish has since expressed his support for both the LNA and Khalifa Haftar.
As the Observer reports Benghazi has experienced many political murders lately:The war-torn city has been plunged into political murder. Last week, the head of Libyan Anti-Corruption Organization Mohamed Abu Gaiqis was killed in a car bomb explosion in Al-Kish square, one day before 10 bodies were found in a landfill site in Ziat Street. Two of the bodies were identified as Farhat Migherhi and Hussien Sharief, both are political opponents to Dignity Operation.Even more recently several members of the former 204 Tank Brigade that was commanded by Al-Barghathi, an opponent of Haftar, were murdered and their bodies showed signs of torture. According to a recent tweet the Al-Barghathi's house in Benghazi was torched after he criticized Haftar and the LNA: "#MoD Barghathi office to alnaba tv, protesters burned his house in #Benghazi after tonight statement against #LNA #Libya"

Troops loyal to Libyan unity government's defense minister murdered in eastern Libya

Two members of the 204 Tank Brigade formerly commanded by Colonel Al-Mahdi Barghathi the acting defence minister of the Libyan Government have been killed with both showing signs of torture.

The bodies of the two men were found near Al-Abyar about 50 kilometers east of Benghazi. A Libyan National Army source said they showed signs of torture. The two had been reporting missing earlier. Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) renamed the battalion 298 and a new commander Abdulkarim Hussein was appointed. A number of the brigade appear to be still loyal to Al-Barghathi. The two who were murdered were identified as Ayad Suweih and Miakalal Jirari. In Tripoli, the defence ministry issue issued a statement claiming that Suweih had been killed after he had been held prisoner for two days
The defense ministry also posted an obituary to mourn Ayyd Suweih. A statement on Facebook reads: “The ministry will leave no stone unturned as it tries to stem the ongoing kidnaps, torture, assassinations and violations against civilians in Benghazi.” Suweih's body was found tossed on a road in the Al-Abyar district with torture marks on it. He had been shot in the lower back. A third 204 Tanks fighter's body was found thrown in a landfill with torture marks on the body as well.
In other incidents, a security unit affiliated with Haftar in Benghazi stormed the house of a brigade fighter on Saturday at dawn and arrested him as well as confiscating his car. The group also raided the house of Al-Barghathi's son in law in another area of Benghazi. According to the Libya Observer:Benghazi is now a battlefield for the security units that are all fighting for control of the security department. Some of the units are pro-Haftar and others are against him and both have taken the fight so far to the extent that they started using military vehicles and deploying fighters against one another.
Several tweets confirm the killing incidents but with different numbers and some additional names.One reads: "kidnapping, Y'day, of an officer & 4 soldiers of Barghathi's Tanks Batallion 204. 3 found dumped in tipping site (tortured), 2 still missing
6:55 AM - 6 Nov 2016". Another claims: "Mahmoud e-Shami & Khaled el-Bijo still missing. All these kidnappings & killings targeted members of Brigade 204, yesterday & dawn today. "

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Montreal police have been spying on journalist for five months

Whistle blower Edward Snowden said that the Montreal chief of police should resign after it was revealed that the police had been tracking the phone of a prominent journalist for five months in order to identify his sources.

Edward Snowden, is an American computer professional born in 1983. He worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and also as a former contractor for the U.S. government. In 2013 he copied and leaked classified information from the National Security Agency. His leaks exposed many secret surveillance programs. Many were run by the NSA but also by the Five Eyes Alliance with the cooperation of many telecommunication companies and European governments. In spite of pressure from a number of organizations, there is no sign that Snowden will be granted a pardon.
Snowden spoke via a video link to a packed auditorium at McGill university in Montreal. The scandal widened when it was revealed that provincial police in 2013 took out warrants to keep tabs on six journalists. They were attempting to find out who leaked information about a criminal probe into a prominent labor leader.
Snowden wondered whether the law was beginning to fail as a guarantor of rights. For their part, the Montreal police have defended their actions as the surveillance was part of their investigation into allegations that police officers within the drugs and street gangs unit had fabricated evidence. Five officers were arrested in connection with the allegations during this summer. The police had detected contact between one of the officers who was under investigation and journalist Patrick Lagace of La Presse. They had obtained warrants to track Lagace's cell phone. Police Chief Philippe Pichet said that the police actions were not aimed at Lagace but at the officer under investigation. Pichet said: “We are very aware of the importance of freedom of the press. But on the other hand, there were criminal allegations against a police officer … and we have a job to do.”
However, Snowden suggested the police chief should resign a position also taken by some Montreal city councillors. Snowden said: “Rather than the police chief saying ‘all right this was clearly something that went too far and regardless of whether or not I authorised this operation, I recognise that to restore trust I need to re-establish the basis of accountability … for that reason I have chosen to resign.’ We don’t see the mayor calling for that, we don’t see the local premier calling for that.”
The Quebec government said it would launch a full inquiry into the affair. Stephanie Vallee, Quebec Justice Minister said: “We consider that it’s important for the public of Québec to trust their public institutions." Philippe Couillard, Quebec premier, also announced that the government would be examining procedures at Quebec's three major police forces and seek to make it more difficult to obtain search warrants to spy on journalists.
When Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was asked about the Quebec incidents he said that the troubling stories out of Quebec would "lead to reflection on how we must and can continue to ensure protection of the press and their rights." He also claimed that the government had contacted the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to confirm that nothing similar was happening at the federal level. Trudeau claimed: " We have actually strong safeguards and protections in place to protect the freedom of the press in the course of business conducted by CSIS and the RCMP. And I can confirm those safeguards are still very much in place and consistent with the values and concerns this government has and that Canadians have.”
Tom Henheffer of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression noted that the police had broken no law in tracking the journalists as they had proper warrants to do so. He said this is the way that the system is supposed to work. He said this just showed that it was the system itself that was broken.

Officials from UN-backed Libyan government banned from opening of power station

At the Al-Khums Power Station in the city of Al-Khums about 120 kilometers east of Tripoli the second gas turbine was put in operation Saturday. The increased output will likely ease the power shortage in Tripoli the capital.

In a boost for the Salvation Government members who plotted a coup back on October 14, Khalifa al-Ghawiel PM of the Salvation Government attended the opening ceremonies. Acccording to a report in the Libya Observer Ahmed Mitiq a member of the Presidency Council (PC) of the rival UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) was declared persona non grata at the opening. Mitiq and his delegation which included a steering-committee for the General Electricity Company were ordered to leave the city according to local sources.
The PC of the GNA had earlier selected the steering committee for the General Electricity Company of Libya. However, the Tripoli Court of Appeal ruled against the appointments and ordered that the current management, which is loyal to the Salvation Government, remain in office.
The company said that the first turbine should be in operation by later this year with a total output of 262 megawatts. This extra power should help reduce the number of power cuts in Tripoli. The cuts are particularly bad in the summer months when the weather is veyr hot and often humid.
Several tweets comment on the opening. One says: Khalifa Laghwel PM of Salvation Governement officially opened #Khoms power plant. 100k east if #Tripoli, reports on denying access to Mieteg. Another tweet commented: If Ghwell/Salvation Govt opened Khoms power station 100 km east of Tripoli: further proof of ineffectivness/failure of Serraj/PC/GNA/LPA!
The weakness of the GNA has already been shown by several events including the seizure of the Rixos hotel, headquarters of the High State Council of the GNA, by members of the Salvation Government on October 14. Not only have the coup members managed to maintain control of the Rixos complex but a portion of the Presidential Guard whose mission is to defend the GNA defected and supported the group. The coup leaders have controlled the Rixos complex for weeks now. The GNA does not seem to have the power or at least the will to try and oust the coup members by force. The Salvation Government appears not to be dead as yet.
In a frank interview, PM of the GNA Faiez Serraj admits the many problems of the GNA most of which remain to be solved. A recent report by the International Crisis Group is also critical of the GNA as well as the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA)

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

Facebook finds its user base had gone down in Europe the company reported as it announced its third-quarter earnings. This is the second qu...